Public Seminar: Break Up the Tech Monopoly

February 3, 2021 Tech

Australian leaders want Google to pay news outlets for articles the tech giant serves up to users. In response, Google threatened to pull its search engine from the entire country.

Not just news, but democracy is at stake.

Google’s threat sounds absurd. But it actually happened. And Google wasn’t alone: Facebook also threatened to prevent Australians from sharing links to news articles if the country’s pay-for-news effort is successful. The standoff is coming to a head now, as Australian lawmakers debate legislation to which the tech giants are opposed.

That these threats can be made at all is evidence that saving a beleaguered journalism industry the world over means breaking the power of massive corporations such as Google and Facebook. Up to this point, many lawmakers across the world have simply looked for ways to cajole, not force, these corporate giants into providing compensation for the news content from which they benefit. Google’s threat shows why that course of action is insufficient to the challenge.

Finding a way to have big tech pay for news is a popular solution among lawmakers and journalists to stave off the collapse of print journalism in several countries, including the U.S. The sentiment makes sense. It’s undeniable that Google and Facebook, in particular, have done serious harm to the journalism industry by taking the money that used to sustain it, especially at the local level, where subscription-based models have been less viable and where private equity financiers have been stripping papers for spare parts.